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Key Takeaways

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs offers monthly compensation for eligible Veterans who have been injured as a result of their military service.
The VA determines the monthly compensation amount by rating disabilities based on their severity and number, using a scale of 0-100%.
A Veteran can file a claim for physical and/or mental disabilities that can be connected to their military service.
Proper documentation and medical evidence are critical to establish a military service connection.
The VA will deny claims if the military service connection cannot be proven.
If your Veteran disability claim has been denied, an accredited VA Attorney can help fight for your rights.

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Unlocking Your VA Disability Benefits: A Step-By-Step Guide

Key Takeaways

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs offers monthly compensation for eligible Veterans who have been injured as a result of their military service.
The VA determines the monthly compensation amount by rating disabilities based on their severity and number, using a scale of 0-100%.
A Veteran can file a claim for physical and/or mental disabilities that can be connected to their military service.
Proper documentation and medical evidence are critical to establish a military service connection.
The VA will deny claims if the military service connection cannot be proven.
If your Veteran disability claim has been denied, an accredited VA Attorney can help fight for your rights.

Navigating the labyrinth of VA disability claims can feel like an unending battle—another front line that many veterans never anticipated. After serving with honor, dedication, and selflessness, understanding and accessing the benefits you rightly deserve shouldn't be another conflict zone. This comprehensive guide aims to be the beacon in that fog, shining light on the complexities and helping you, our nation's heroes, secure the support you've earned. We're here to guide and support, ensuring that no veteran walks this path alone.

Eligibility Criteria: How Veterans Can Qualify for a Disability Claim

The VA considers a disability to be any physical or mental condition directly caused by military service. This could range from physical injuries sustained during combat to long-term health conditions like PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) or exposure to harmful substances like Agent Orange. Even conditions that become apparent months or years after your service may qualify if they can be linked to your time on active duty.

To qualify for VA disability benefits as a veteran, both of these criteria must be true:

You have a current medical condition affecting your mind or body.

You served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.

And at least one of the following must apply:

You got sick or injured while serving in the military—and can link this condition to your illness or injury (called an in-service disability claim), or

You had an illness or injury before you joined the military—and serving made it worse (called a pre-service disability claim), or

You have a disability related to your active-duty service that didn’t appear until after you ended your service (called a post-service disability claim).

Showing a clear connection between your disability and your time in service is crucial. To be eligible for disability compensation, you must be able to prove not only the existence of your disability but also a causal relationship between that disability and your military service. Proper documentation, medical examinations, and sometimes service records are essential in supporting and verifying your claim.

Presumptive Conditions

For some conditions, the VA will automatically assume (or presume) that certain disabilities were caused by your military service. The VA’s list of presumptive conditions serves several important purposes, designed primarily to streamline, and simplify the process of applying for disability benefits for veterans.

If you have a condition on the VA's presumptive list, you don't need to prove it was caused or aggravated by your military service. You only need to meet certain service requirements specified for that particular condition, such as serving in a specific location or time period.

The Impact of Your Disability Rating on Monthly Compensation

The VA assesses disabilities using a percentage-based rating on a scale from 0 to 100%. Ratings increase in increments of 10, with higher ratings indicating a more severe disability and leading to higher monthly benefits. When the VA evaluates the severity of your disability, they will assign a rating that they believe corresponds with your disabilities. It is important to note that you can claim multiple disabilities and/or multiple dependents to get a higher rating. The VA uses a complex mathematical system to calculate the appropriate rating for each specific veteran. Some disabilities, such as Tinnitus, may be considered at a lower rating than others, such as Cancer.

Each year, the VA reviews the disability compensation rates to potentially adjust them for inflation. If the VA increases the monthly compensation rates, it will automatically apply to your monthly payment. In 2023, VA disability pay increased by 8.7% - the largest increase in over 30 years.

Can the VA expedite my disability claim?

While the VA disability claims process can be lengthy and complicated, certain situations allow for expedited processing. These specific circumstances often involve veterans who are either terminally ill, aged 75 or older, or facing severe financial difficulties. Additionally, Medal of Honor recipients, former POWs, and those who have suffered certain extreme injuries while serving can also qualify for quicker claim evaluations. Below, we explore some key categories where expedited processing is commonly applied:

Veterans Facing Severe Disabilities

The VA places a high priority on claims from veterans dealing with disabilities that severely impair their quality of life. For instance, those experiencing profound disabilities like blindness or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are fast-tracked through the claims process. The goal is to offer immediate and robust support to veterans whose conditions demand urgent attention and care.

Support Programs for Homeless and Incarcerated Veterans

The VA recognizes the unique barriers that homeless and incarcerated veterans may encounter when filing for disability benefits. To alleviate these challenges, they have implemented the Homeless Veterans Outreach program. This program aims to streamline the claims process for these vulnerable veterans while also connecting them to vital healthcare services and housing solutions. Veteran service organizations can also serve as crucial guides when navigating these complex scenarios.

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Key Documents Needed to File a VA Benefits Claim

Applying for VA disability benefits involves providing the appropriate documentation to ensure the Veterans Affairs office can accurately process your claim. Here's a list of common documents veterans typically need when applying for disability through the VA:

    DD Form 214: This is the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. It's a key document as it provides evidence of a veteran's service and the nature of their discharge. You can submit a request for your military service records here.

    Service Medical Records: These records include any treatments or hospitalizations during your time in service.

    VA Medical Records: If you've previously received treatment at a VA hospital or clinic, these records can be vital in supporting your claim.

    Private Medical Records: If you've sought treatment outside of the VA system, these records can be used to support the existence and severity of your disability.

    Statements from Friends and Family: These statements can be helpful, especially for conditions like PTSD where personal testimonies can offer insight into your daily struggles and the impact of the condition on your life.

    Supporting Statements: These can be from fellow service members who witnessed the event that caused your injury or can vouch for your experiences.

    Direct Deposit Information: To ensure you receive your benefits, you'll need to provide your bank's routing number and your account number.

    Dependency Records: If you're claiming benefits for dependents, you might need marriage certificates, birth certificates of children, or other related documents.

    Evidence for Special Circumstances: If you're claiming benefits under special conditions like being a former prisoner of war or experiencing military sexual trauma, you might need documentation or statements that support these circumstances.

    Additional forms: Depending on the specifics of your claim, the VA might require other forms or pieces of documentation. For example, if you're filing a claim for PTSD, you might need to fill out a PTSD-specific questionnaire.

    When applying for disability benefits, it's essential to provide as much documentation as possible. If certain documents are missing, the VA will often try to get them on your behalf but supplying them upfront can help expedite the claims process.

    How To Submit Your VA Disability Claim

    There are three different ways to submit your disability claim to the VA.

    Online: Create a new account here to submit your information to the VA. The VA portal will have options to upload your discharge papers, medical records, and any other supporting evidence.

    Mail: File your claim by mail using an Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits (VA Form 21-526EZ). Print the form, fill it out and mail it to this address:

    Department of Veterans Affairs
    Claims Intake Center
    PO Box 4444
    Janesville, WI 53547-4444

    In Person: Bring your application and supporting documents to a VA regional office near you. Click here to find a VA regional office in your area.


    Save Your Start Date: Intent to File

    If you need more time to gather your military or medical records, it may be beneficial to submit an Intent to File form to the VA. This would establish a potential start date (or effective date) for your benefits. If you notify the VA of your intent to file, you may be able to get retroactive payments (payments for the time between when you submitted your intent to file and when the VA approves your claim).
    Notify the VA about your intent to file if you’re considering submitting either an initial claim or Supplemental Claim for the following types of benefits:

    Disability Compensation

    Pension Benefits

    Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

    Claim Denials: Your Next Steps

    Don’t let the complexities of the VA system stop you from seeking the disability benefits you are entitled to. If your VA disability claim has been denied or if you believe your rating does not represent the severity of your conditions, contact Wettermark Keith’s VA Accredited Disability Lawyers at (877) 715-9300 or through our website form.

    With offices located throughout Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida, Wettermark Keith has an excellent reputation as one of the most accomplished personal injury firms in the country. Wettermark Keith’s reach is not only regional, but it also includes a diverse range of practice areas, including personal injury cases. Our firm operates on a contingency fee basis, meaning you pay nothing out of pocket. Any legal fees and associated costs will be collected from your winnings at the conclusion of the case. If your lawyer is not able to obtain a verdict or settlement for your injury, you will not be charged any legal fees for their efforts.

    At Wettermark Keith, we believe in taking cases personally. Our purpose is to practice with care and compassion - to tell our clients’ stories and make their voices heard. We do this by building strong relationships based on constant communication and an unwavering dedication to truth and trust. Winning cases isn’t our goal - caring for you is. Winning is just how we show it. It’s more to us, it’s personal.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    To file a VA disability claim, you'll primarily need your DD Form 214 for proof of military service, along with any service medical records that relate to your disability. Additionally, VA medical records and private medical records that support your claim can be very helpful. Optionally, buddy statements from people who can vouch for your condition can strengthen your case. These documents collectively serve as the evidence required for your claim.

    You’re not required to provide supporting evidence when you initially file your claim, although it will help to strengthen your claim and chances of being approved. Keep in mind that you have a one-year window from the date your claim is received to submit any additional evidence. If you initiate your application but need extra time to compile supporting documents, you can pause and resume later. The date you initially started the application will be considered your claim date, provided you complete the application within a year.

    As of July 2023, the VA takes an average of 104 days to complete disability-related claims.

    Yes, the VA can deny your disability claim, and there are several reasons why this might happen. Lack of sufficient evidence to prove a disability is service-connected is a common issue. Additionally, you could face denial if you don't meet basic eligibility criteria such as the type of discharge you received or the length of your service. Administrative errors or missing documentation can also lead to a denied claim. It's important to understand that a denial is not the end of the road; you have the right to appeal the decision. Given the complexity of VA regulations and the high stakes involved, many veterans opt to seek legal representation at the appeals stage to maximize their chances of a successful outcome.

    While it's possible to go through the initial VA disability claim process on your own, having an attorney becomes especially important if your claim is denied. Specialized Veterans Affairs attorneys are skilled in navigating the complexities of the appeals process. They can help you assemble a compelling case by ensuring that all relevant medical records, service records, and other evidence are properly organized and submitted for your appeal. This expertise becomes particularly crucial in cases involving severe disabilities or complicated medical histories, where the financial stakes are high. So, while an attorney is not a requirement for filing an initial claim, seeking legal representation for an appeal can provide invaluable assistance and improve your chances of a successful outcome.

    You can add a spouse, up to 2 parents and any biological or adopted children under the age of 18 (up to 23 if they are in school). While adding dependents could affect the amount of compensation you receive, it will also add to the complexity of your claim. Different rules may apply based on the nature of your disability, your individual situation, and any changes in legislation.

    Ready to work together? Contact us today for a free consultation.


    If you or a loved one have been injured and think you might have a case, call us now for a free consultation.